The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Elections hit ST hurdle

Guwahati, Dec. 7: Torn between six communities demanding Scheduled Tribe status and several others opposing it, Delhi was today given two more difficult choices to make — a guarantee of ST benefits to the Adivasis by December 15 or a “ban” on panchayat elections in the tea belt.

The All Assam Tea Tribes Students’ Association not only put the government on notice, but also warned community members against ignoring its poll-ban diktat. The president of the association, Prahlad Gowala, told the media that any member of the tea tribes found digressing from what had been decided would be branded a “traitor” and subjected to a social boycott.

The decisions were taken during a marathon meeting of the association’s executive committee last night.

Panchayat elections are to be held in three phases: on December 31, January 4 and January 9.

The students’ association has already banned the entry of political leaders into the tea gardens, either to campaign for the elections or placate the tea tribes.

Gowala appealed to community members residing outside the tea belt not to participate in the elections. “The ball is now in the Centre’s court. We have had enough of assurances from the state government. This time, we are not going to be lulled into complacency by any assurance from the state government.”

The association has lined up a slew of agitation programmes, beginning Monday, to keep the pot boiling. Activists will burn effigies of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, chief minister Tarun Gogoi and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi in all tea gardens on that day.

Wednesday will be a day of mourning for the victims in the mob attack on Adivasi rallyists in Beltola on November 24. The association said at least 12 Adivasis in the rally that day were still missing.

On December 17, students from the tea tribes will hold a four-hour sit-in demonstration in all tea gardens to highlight the socio-economic problems confronting the community and the relevance of ST status.

All the tea tribes are of Adivasi descent. The other communities seeking ST status are the Tai Ahoms, Chutias, Muttocks, Morans and Koch Rajbongshis.

The All Assam Students’ Union is backing the tea tribes students’ association and the All Adivasi Students’ Association of Assam, which had organised the Guwahati rally that ended in chaos. Members of all three organisations today held a sit-in demonstration at Shanti Udyan in Dighalipukhuri.

The AASU leadership said all six communities clamouring for ST status were entitled to it.

For Delhi and Dispur, the ST issue has become a quagmire from which there seems to be no escape.

The communities that already have ST status are unwilling to share the privileges they enjoy with more ethnic groups. The Bodoland People’s Progressive Front, an ally of the Congress, has made it clear that granting ST status to six communities would skew the balance and lead to more unrest.

Minister and government spokesman Himanta Biswa Sarma hinted earlier this week that the six communities could be included in the ST list by enhancing the percentage of reservation for that category and reducing that for the Other Backward Classes, to which they belong now.

The assigned reservation quota for OBC is 27 per cent. Communities in the ST (Plains) and ST (Hills) categories are entitled to 10 per cent and five per cent reservation.

Official sources said the tea tribes’ threat to prevent panchayat polls in the tea belt was being taken seriously. The government has convened a meeting on Monday to work out an elaborate security plan for the polls. The State Election Commission has declared 2,425 polling stations “very sensitive” and 4,430 “sensitive”.

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